Several successive governments have put in place several policies designed to improve farmers’ productivity. However, a fundamental gap between these policies and their implementation continue to frustrate their success.
This gap affects many areas of agricultural life including access to information, credit, markets, land and security. This gap is the absence of a functioning and responsive agricultural extension services.
This agricultural extension services have been identified as an important part of the intended transformation of the agricultural sector.
For agriculture to become and income generating commercial activity and not just a development programme, extension services to farmers must be restructured to be efficient and effective.
Farmers’ inability to access vital information that is beneficial to them and the ineffective dissemination of information by extension agents cause poor feedbacks between farmers, research institutes and policy makers in the agricultural sector.
Available data have shown that over 80 percent of Nigeria’s food is produced by farmers in the villages, 60-70 percent of whom are women. These farmers work on small plots of land and rely on rainfall for irrigation. If adequately empowered, smallholder farmers have the capacity to feed the nation.
Sule Abdul, a tomato farmer in Alabata, Odeda, Ogun State, says, “Any time the extension agents come, they pick selected farmers for training so that those farmers can come back and teach us what they have learnt but most of the farmers when they come back cannot explain anything to us.”
He further stated, “Most of the extension agents cannot come to us because of bad roads to our community. The extension agents are also very few compared to the number of farmers they have to train in the community.”
Abdul also says he normally listens to radio stations for information but he does not really understand what they are saying most times. “This also affects output because when improved varieties that will improve production come we get to know about it very late,” he adds. Abdul’s case is similar to thousands of other farmers across the country.
Further investigation shows that the extension service system has been marred with a lot of challenges especially in the area of feedbacks, inadequate funding and poor access roads for extension farmers to access these farmers.
Analysts have said that for the country to attain the level of food security, diversify its economy away from oil, and reduce dependency on food imports, it has to restructure its agricultural extension services to become effective and efficient.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated in its report entitled “the consumption pattern in Nigeria” that 64.7 percent of total household income was spent on food, with 35.3 percent spent on non-food items.
Adewumi Olusegun, a farmer in Oyo State, shared his experience which suggested that urgent steps must be taken to revamp extension services in Nigeria. “My farmland is very far from the town as I spend N5, 000 on transportation every time I go to town to get fertilisers for my crop. So it will be difficult for the extension agents to come to our farmlands because the roads are bad and it is very far from town.
Low government funding for extension services has led to the unavailability of input materials needed to support farmers such as 4WD vehicles, farmer’s skills acquisition centres, demonstration centres, demonstration kits and low morale exhibited by the extension workers.
Olusegun further says that “any time an improved seed variety comes out; it takes months or a year before we get the information and when we get it we still don’t know what to do. I am a cassava farmer, I heard that the government is talking about increasing cassava production, but I don’t know how the government wants to achieve it and if they have technology that will help us improve our farm produce.”
“There exists a wide extension agent-to-farm ratio in Nigeria where it is estimated that there is one extension agent to 2,500 to 10,000 farm families depending on the state,” according to The Extension Transformation Group (TETG).
According to a study conducted by Lucia Omobolanle Ogunsunmi in 2008, her findings showed that “74.44 percent of the farmers surveyed had no contact with extension services for three years while only 4.8 percent were visited within a year. Only 27.4 percent were visited or had contact with extension services for 1-4 times a year.”
The challenges identified by Ogunsunmi should have been addressed by now because food consumption in Nigeria presents massive investment opportunities to everyone.
Pragmatic efforts have to be made in boosting farming businesses via the adoption of efficient agricultural extension services because of the importance of extension services to food production.